After many arguments, my mother relented and brought first class tickets on a train called Black Diamond and she offered to reach me and settle me into whatever accommodation had been arranged. The 'first class' experience on Black Diamond was interesting, carpeted floors, the train attendants appeared to be dressed in clothes from the British Raj era, spacious seating and a choice of food, tea and coffee. The first class compartment seemed to be full of potbellied bespectacled gentlemen who probably held senior management positions in the steel and coal plants in the Durgapur - Ranigunj - Asansol regions.
We managed to get a taxi to take us to our destination, some address in City Center. The car came to a halt in front of a half built house with tall knee high grass growing in front of it. A rusty motorbike was parked in front which was probably the only sign of habitation. I got down, waded through grass and found a calling bell and pressed with all my might. The door opened and an old gentleman stepped out, we introduced ourselves and then realization dawned. He scurried to get the keys and opened the room in front of the house facing the road (and the grass). The room was dingy, dark, had a fan, a tube light, a functional bed with four legs, a table and a chair. The toilet was even more dingy with barely a beam of sunlight fighting its way though a dirty glass window. My Mother let out what seemed to be a wail of despair while I smiled and blissfully left it to her to manage. The landlord (the old gentleman) warned us of dire consequences if we left the fan on after stepping out of the house or cooked inside the room using a kerosene stove. My Mother, enterprising as she is, managed to find a person who would provide cooked meals thrice a day so I would not have to cook.
The 'office' was a better place in comparison, it was a residential property which was turned into class rooms to train people to be computer literate and become programmers. The 'receptionist' was a friendly girl names Sharmistha, the 'peon' was a sinister looking person named Tarak, who (I later learnt) peddled XXX videos to men and women who had such tastes. The trainer was an Amir Khan look alike called Shantanu who I immediately fell for! I was given my brief by the 'Boss' who owned the franchise - another shady looking businessman who (I later learnt) always kept a pack of French letters handy, I forget his name now. Later Sharmistha told me to be careful as she had already been propositioned by the boss. Well all in a day's work as they say!
My Mother left after a week - the little room seemed emptier, there was no TV, only my Sony world receiver which helped me to keep in touch with the world. I brought along a cookery book and looking at it made me miserable but still I turned pages and drooled over pictures of lemon tarts and shepherd's pies and tried to assuage my cravings vicariously while I ate bullet like rice with watery dal (lentil soup), mushy characterless vegetable and a smelly fish. Most of my lunches and dinners were fed to a dog and her new born litter of pups. Over the next eight months I saw them grown into confident young puppies and Mama Dog gave up hunting for food as she had a benevolent provider at hand. The Papa dog was never seen in the vicinity and was perhaps making merry with the other bitches.
The monsoons came along with torrential rains, the grass in front of my door grew taller, the earthworms crept up into my room for a dry place and plenty of frogs hopped in the moment I opened the door. I could not bear the thought of spending nights with frogs who has no intention of turning into princes so I led them Pied Piper like into the toilet and swept them into the Indian toilet with a broom and flushed them to a watery end. The numerous earthworms met a salty end as I had read somewhere that if one sprinkles salt over all kinds of creepy crawlies they shrivel up and die.
The monsoons went and the grass turned into a field of 'kash phool' (a kind of wild flower which blooms in October), the sun was fierce and I wore my new bright orange dress and was walking down the street humming a song. I was in for a nasty surprise, a bull snorted angrily and started coming towards me menacingly and I still remember running for dear life and 200 meters seemed like a never ending stretch of 2000 kilo meters. I have never worn bright orange after that incident!
In the meantime I had managed to strike up a friendship with the landlord's daughter and watched some TV in the evenings which was better than sitting alone with nothing much to do. Shantanu used to take me for long rides on his bike all around Durgapur but his parents sensed a budding romance and strictly forbade him to go around with a spoilt city girl and I will not go further into that story. Sharmistha, Shantanu and I were good friends - as one usually is when they are thrown together in difficult situations, we had a lot of fun, we cooked together, went for picnics, watched an XXX movie at Shantanu's house (my first) courtesy Tarak which was more hilarious than erotic and had all of us in splits.
Every alternate weekend I traveled back to Calcutta, took a rickety bus which had people sitting on the roof and unlikely co passengers like some sheep and goats all packed in like sardines. On reaching Burdwan, I used to buy some 'mihi dana' which is a specialty and then board the local train to Calcutta - at times without a ticket! In course of another few months, the novelty of living alone and a job which had no future or challenges wore off and I finally bade farewell to the friends and acquaintances and came back home for a better job. I learnt a lot of lessons during that stint, some small and some big which helped me deal with situations along the way.
Now when I sit in my plush office with a laptop and all the trappings of the good life that this job provides, I remember my humble beginnings and the immense excitement and adventure that went along with it. It’s been a wonderful journey so far where India and I have progressed together and I hope we reach the greater heights together as well...